From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Humbled Interfaith Immigrant Delegate

Many thanks to the Oregon New Sanctuary Movement (ONSM), Matt Cato at the Office of Justice and Peace/Respect Life at the Archdiocese of Portland, Portland VOZ, Adelante Mujeres, the Virginia Garcia Clinic, and good ole Catholic Relief Services for the most intriguing Saturday I've had in a long time.

On August 28th a group of 9 interfaith delegates attended ONSM's Next Door Neighbors: Neighborhood Immigration Delegation, a day trip to three local agencies that work with immigrants, designed to mobilize faith communities through their leaders in the realm of immigration.

As Matt Cato, Head of the Justice and Peace Office, could not attend as a Roman Catholic representative, he paid my way to go. WOW.

Imagine for a moment that you're me (I'm warning you; don't do it any longer than a moment), and you're passionate about human solidarity, immigrant rights, Spanish, and interfaith dialogue, and you'll understand how very awesome the day was.

We began at Augustana Lutheran, where we met the other delegates and our hosts/guides for the day. I was especially enthused to meet Anna, a Quaker who knew about JVC, Dana from a Unitarian Universalist parish (fascinating faith), Beth, one of the ONSM coordinators who seems to be one of those select human beings capable of doing twelve things at once while being both on Mars and in Italy etc., and Marco Mejia, a friend of my Aunt Jeanine's (I'm living at her house) from Ecuador, who's on the board of both VOZ and ONSM.

We then bussed (sp?) it to VOZ (see my last post...I go there every week now!), where we had an opportunity to hear the stories of three immigrant men. From there, we went to Virginia Garcia Clinic, which helps underserved, uninsured communities in the Portland metro area in everything from depression treatment to cardiology. Afterwards, we ate lunch and de-briefed at Adelante Mujeres (Forward Women--great name for an org!), a local sustainable-farming centered organization helping to boost immigrant-run businesses. They even sponsor a Wednesday farmer's market in Forest Grove, OR, to which I will go someday!

I could tell any of you whatever you ask about each organization and what they do and how to support them. But that's a lot of words for a blog. So what I'd like to write about instead is what I experienced/learned, and what I'm going to do about it.

  • Connections. It seems wherever you go in the Portland immigrant/Spanish-speaking scene, let alone the Catholic scene or life in general, people know people that you know (yes, I meant to say that) and are willing to support you if you're working to help people. It's like the old Bob Daily joke. Which isn't that funny, but if you want to know it, I'll tell it to you.
  • There's very little more gratifying than seeing peoples' eyes and hearts opened. By putting links like the hungersite (see upper right) on my blog and by going to events like this, I hope to see the ways closed-mindedness and ignorance disappear. I had been to VOZ before and had talked to homeless and struggling immigrants before, so I felt reasonably at ease wherever we went. But some of the women on the delegation had never left Oregon, never spoken Spanish, never touched the immigrant issue whatsoever. And they left changed and questioning. That's what solidarity with the poor is about. It's the only remedy to the hopelessness of the suffering of the world. (What can you do to add to my gratification, then? Start small: visit!)
  • Dialogue destroys pointless fear barriers. Some of the questions that were asked of these immigrants--so where do you sleep at night? what can my Parish do to improve your working conditions? how long were you in prison?--really animated me, the asker, and the answerer. Barriers were broken, and suddenly people of different races and languages were neighbors.
  • Filmmakers, how do you do it? I learned just how very hard it is to take a good video clip and put it together with others to make a movie. I have a few clips of immigrants speaking that I shot with my parents' somewhat ghetto video cam. Hopefully they'll be able to inspire others...or at least serve as practice for doing just that.

So what am I going to do with all this, since "sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul"? I'm hoping to get Roman Catholic young adults in the area together for a film screening about day laborers or immigrants at a local cafe/bar or parish, and my dream is to invite some of the men at VOZ to come speak about their experiences, since my video clips just don't cut it in the end.

I also think St. Andrew's, the COOLEST parish in Portland I tell ya, would be interested in a film screening or dialogue featuring VOZ workers or Adelante farmers. More to come.

That's all for now. I am so grateful for life. I hope you are too.